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The Curves adjustment in Adobe Photoshop has a reputation for being challenging for some photographers. In this workshop, Photoshop expert Tim Grey takes you step by step through every aspect of the Curves adjustment, helping you truly understand the concepts behind it so that you can quickly and easily maximize tonal range, optimize contrast, and enhance your photos' color balance. Note: This course was recorded in Photoshop CS5, but was created with users of both Photoshop CS5 and Photoshop CS4 in mind.
Curves is first and foremost a tool for adjusting the overall tonality, generally, the brightness and contrast within an image. When adjusting the black and white points in an image, the Curves Adjustment provides a Clipping Preview Display option. In other words, you can see a preview of where, and to what extent, you're blowing out highlight detail or blocking up shadow detail based on the adjustment you're applying. In this lesson, I'm going to show you how I recommend working with the Clipping Preview Display in Curves.
In this case. I've already created a curves adjustment, so I'm ready to enable the Clipping Preview Display. One way that I can do that is to use the panel pop-up menu located at the top right of the Adjustments panel when I'm working with the Curves Adjustment. When I click on that button, a menu will pop up and I can choose the Show Clipping for Black/White Points option. When I choose this option, it will be enabled. If I go back to the menu, I can see that it's enabled because a check mark is shown to the left of this menu item. Now, when I adjust the black and white points within the Curves Adjustment, I'll see a Clipping Preview.
For example, now I'm working with the black point. So initially, the image goes completely white. As I drag the slider over to the right, eventually, I'll start to see pixels appearing, indicating which channels are losing information and where that's affecting the image. Colors indicate that one or more channels are losing information. If I get to the point where I can see black, that indicates that I've clicked Shadow Detail all the way to pure black. I can see a similar effect for the white point slider.
I'll click and start dragging the white point, and as you can see, the image appears initially all black. But then as I go further and further, adjusting that white point, I'll start to see first colored pixels and then white pixels. Again, the colored pixels indicate which channel or channels are losing information based on this adjustment. White indicates that those areas have been blown out to complete white with absolutely no detail. Now, this is obviously a very helpful display, but I prefer to have a little bit more flexibility when I'm working with the Clipping Preview Display.
Therefore, I'll turn off the option on the panel pop-up menu, so that by default that Clipping Preview will not be shown. Now, when I adjust the white point, as you can see, I'm only able to see the effect in the image, not the Clipping Preview. But if I'd like to enable the Clipping Preview at any time, all I need to do is hold the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on McIntosh. This allows me to switch back and forth at will between the Clipping Preview Display and the actual image. So here, I'll hold the Alt or Option key and adjust my white point slider and I can see where I'm losing information.
Let's assume that I want to maximize the white point. So I might use an adjustment somewhere along these lines. But I want to see how the image actually looks at this point. All I need to do is release the Alt or Option key while I continue making a refinement to my adjustment, and I can see the effect in the actual image. If I'd like to go back to the Clipping Preview Display, I can simply hold the Alt or Option key again and continue adjusting the slider. This entire time, I am able to hold the mouse button down and continue moving the slider back and forth. Simply releasing the key on the keyboard when I want to see the actual image, and pressing and holding that key on the keyboard when I want to see the Clipping Preview.
The Clipping Preview Display available in Curves is invaluable for setting the black and white points, and for helping to ensure you're not losing information in your images when you're attempting to maximize the total range of an image. I use the Clipping Preview Display every single time I adjust the black or white points within Curves, and recommend that you do the same.
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